Revenge and Grief in Andrea's Arnold's Red Road

 Note: This review contains spoilers

A few years ago, while driving home from a movie one night, my family and I were almost hit head-on by a truck. One minute we were casually going about our lives, talking about the film we'd just seen, and the next moment headlights were coming at us and in a split second the truck swerved away from us and went on its way. We called the police to report what we'd witnessed and then went home and never heard another thing about it.

Every day, people die because of another person's inebriation or texting or loss of concentration. It's common and tragic and families are left to cope with the devastating aftermath. They have to live with the what ifs. What if that person had just put the phone down, what if that man had not decided to drive after drinking so much, what if that woman had just gone the speed limit. The people who commit these crimes not only harm others, they break a contract with society, they fail to do the things that make society possible, to abide by rules and regulations put in place for the public good.

Andrea Arnold's Red Road examines the ways in which a life is damaged and disfigured because of a traffic accident. Jackie is a CCTV operator who, one day, while doing her job and monitoring the cameras sees a man that she recognizes, a man who destroyed her life. He has recently been released from prison. For what, we do not know.

In fact, a strength of the film is how it builds suspense through the simple act of withholding information, forcing us to watch and unravel the story. Jackie begins to follow the man. She has encounters with him at a bar and a party. He does not recognize her. So the viewer is left to wonder how the two are connected if she knows him but he doesn't know her. This confusion has a propulsive force. It kept me baffled and intrigued throughout the film.

The two seem to be engaging in a mutual seduction. The man, named Clyde, makes clear his sexual interest in Jackie, who goes along with the seduction but wants something more than sex. Her motivation is revenge. The climactic sex scene between Clyde and Jackie is imbued with an unsettling eroticism. What has this man done to her and how should we feel as she is pleasured by him? Why doesn't he recognize this woman who holds an intense loathing for him? Why does she hate him? Should we hate him too?

The ultimate purpose of the sex is so that Jackie can frame Clyde for rape. She wants him put back in the prison he's just left. She wants him out of society so that he can no longer endanger other lives. She is willing to go to extreme lengths to not only avenge her unknown tragedy but to protect society as a whole from this man. She hits her face with a rock, puts Clyde's semen inside her body, and runs from his apartment to the police department. Clyde is arrested.

Only at this point do we finally learn the truth of what happened to Jackie. The truth comes obliquely at first. Jackie goes through a box of things that once belonged to a child. We watch as she puts stuffed animals and other soft objects into a pair of little girl's jeans and a pink hoodie and holds the makeshift doll to her chest, clutching it as though it is a real child. I realized immediately that this was a film about grief, that Jackie had lost a child and every choice she had made was motivated by this shattering loss.

Jackie drops the charges against Clyde and confronts him on the street. She wants to be heard. She tells him that he's the one who killed her husband and daughter when he drove into a bus stop while high on drugs. She was in court, but he never looked at her. It was for this crime that he was sentenced to prison. He attempts to flee Jackie at first, but he finally lets her speak, lets her have the confrontation she's been wanting. He has a casual attitude about it. He's done his time and besides these things happen every day. People die all the time, what's so special about any individual loss? These are not his words. They are mine, but they are the subtext of his response to Jackie.

He can't change the past. He can't take back what he did and so a woman stands on a street corner, screaming to be heard and no one listens. He killed her family and she wanted to do violence to him and she almost went through with it but stopped herself, dropped the charges, walked away from the edge. Clyde walks away, down the street. Clyde has always been able to walk away from the destruction he causes. Jackie is left to go on without her daughter and husband. Clyde didn't know them. Clyde will never know them, but he is the one who obliterated them.

In the final scene, Jackie visits her dead husband's parents. They welcome her in. We see photos from happier times in Jackie's life. She's smiling with her husband and daughter. There are pictures of the little girl. We see bits and pieces of the life that was shattered. Jackie cries, the in-laws comfort her. She's no longer consumed with Clyde. Now she's just a grieving widow, a woman without her daughter, trying to live with the pain and absence.

Jackie's pursuit of Clyde was more than just revenge, it was a reprieve from all-consuming grief that was, nonetheless, enacted in the name of grief. She was trying to put Clyde away for her husband and child, but she has to accept the reality that Clyde is not in prison. He's out in the same world, the same society, as her and there's not a thing she can do about it. And that's her sentence. Clyde did his time and it's over, but her grief is never over.

When she leaves the home, our last image is of her walking down the street as seen by a CCTV camera. It seems fitting that Jackie, like all of us, has gone from the watcher to the watched. The film itself honed in on her individual story, showing the power of cinema to humanize, but the CCTV camera zooms out to the larger society and Jackie is one of many, a random woman walking down a busy street, under surveillance but not really seen, blending in, melting away, carrying her grief and her heartbreak and her memories.

Unspeakable Grief

At work, I sit with a group of women during lunch. They are all older than me, in their late thirties and early forties with husbands, ex-husbands, and children. I am 26. One day, they talk about people they've lost. The women believe the dead communicate with us, that they send signs, that they are always with us. The women think death is a continuation of life. They tell their stories. I listen. I do not speak because I don't believe the same things as they do, and I don't want my non-belief to be misconstrued as judgment or condemnation. I stay silent.

I realize that I cannot speak my father's death. I can only write it. I know, in that moment of sitting with the women, that if I say he is dead, that my father died when I was sixteen years old, if I attempt to tell my story, I will be swallowed by darkness. I will sob. I will lose control. I will gasp for breath. Nearly ten years he has been dead and I cannot talk about it. Where would I begin? And how insulting to nonchalantly mention his death on a lunch break to complete strangers. How terrifying to watch them nod their heads and pretend to understand.

This is the gap between me and other people, the gap between silence and speech, between what can be communicated and what must stay locked inside me or only exist in written language. I can't even imagine myself saying the words "My father died" to the women. My father is dead. How? Please tell me, how did my life become this moment of saying my father is dead, that he was once a person and is now nothing? No, I could never speak it. Just to write it devastates me. Just to live it is annihilating. It's as though I carry this secret with me, the secret of my father's death, this pulsating wound that I can't heal because I can't touch it or bandage it. I can't even look at it. My writing is the only space in which I can confront it and even then language creates a distance between me and the horrific truth.

Yes, in that moment with the women I could have shared my secret and tried to make a connection with them. I could have said that I do not believe in God or the supernatural, but I believe in humanity, in the meaning we create for ourselves. But the cost would have been too great. We should not have to flay ourselves to make connection. We should not have to always confess every dark pain to other people. I choose when and where and how I talk about grief. I choose to write it, to explore it on this blog and in my personal writing. I have no desire to sit with a group of people and attempt to vocalize my grief. I keep it inside where I can control it and live with it and not lose my life to it.


It's such a contradiction, what I am on the inside and what I show the world.

I am made of art. I can't exist in the real world. I dissolve.

Have I ever been real? Life is so immaterial, so untouchable. I don't feel solid anymore.

So alone, always looking for another soul I recognize and identify with. What would it be like to find that?

I miss the sound of the rain on my window, the smell of the earth at night. Home.

I know nothing lasts, but then I live it and it's suddenly real and unbearable.

At times I feel like my father, like I am this copy of him in the world.

Did he know he was beloved?

Maybe I think I'll see him one day and show him this grief as proof that I didn't forget, that our bond is deeper than death. But I'll never see him. He'll never know.

Were we ever real?

Who will mourn him if not me? Who will keep him alive?

I don't write memories. I write the devastation of knowing that memories are all I have left.

What's important is to hold on to yourself.

I am not this person on the outside that the world sees. I am not real. I am something else entirely that I cannot name. I am both made of language and beyond language.

The days go by and take my life with them.

But this is your life, these moments and long stretches of nothingness. How little of it matters and yet all of it matters.

More loss than I can bear. How to make a home in loss? How to endure it? How to forgive yourself for forgetting and overlooking and losing it all?

No time. I need more time. A machine that creates time.

How to accept your own vulnerability? How to make peace with all that is beyond your control, all that could disfigure and end your life, the fate and chance that change everything in a moment?

We live and die in mystery.

Natalie Merchant - Beloved Wife

You were the love
for certain of my life
you were simply my beloved wife
I don't know for certain
how I'll live my life
now alone without my beloved wife
my beloved wife

I can't believe
I've lost the very best of me

You were the love
for certain of my life
you were simply my beloved wife
I don't know for certain
how I'll live my life
now alone without my beloved wife
my beloved wife

I can't believe
I've lost the very best of me

You were the love
for certain of my life
for fifty years simply my beloved wife
with another love I'll never lie again
it's you I can't deny
it's you I can't defy
a depth so deep into my grief
without my beloved soul
I renounce my life
as my right
now alone without my beloved wife
my beloved wife
my beloved wife

My love is gone she suffered long
in hours of pain

My love is gone
now my suffering begins

My love is gone
would it be wrong if I should
surrender all the joy in my life
go with her tonight?

My love is gone she suffered long
in hours of pain

My love is gone
would it be wrong if I should
just turn my face away from the light
go with her tonight?

Lyrics via Natalie Merchant's website

Mourning the Victims of Attacks in Beirut and Paris

On November 12th, two suicide bombers detonated explosives on the streets of Beirut, Lebanon. In the deadliest attack on the city since 1990, at least 41 people died and hundreds were injured. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the heinous attacks.

Just one day later, extremists in Paris killed people at a soccer stadium, outside a cafe, and inside a concert hall in highly coordinated attacks. At least 129 people were killed and more than 350 injured. Like the Beirut attack, ISIS is taking responsibility.

As people all around the world offer an outpouring of support for the victims in Paris, it's important to remember the victims of Beirut, who have not received as much media attention, probably because they were in a Muslim country and are non-white and non-Western. It's important to ask who we see as worthy of our compassion, sympathy, and grief, why the tragedy in Beirut is being ignored, and why Muslim victims of ISIS are forgotten.

Families in Beirut and Paris are suffering right now. They will bury their loved ones and try to make sense of this horrific violence. Let's not forget them or the many other people who die every day from war and violence in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other nations but who never get mentioned in the news.

 Below are images that capture the collective mourning for victims in both Beirut and Paris. They remind us that grief often connects people and though our losses are personal, individual, and unique, the experience of loss itself is universal, as is the need to mourn the dead.

Parisians gathered on Rue de Charonne near where gunmen opened fire on a restaurant. Credit Pierre Terdjman for The New York Times

People lighting candles in Marseille to pay tribute to the victims of the attacks in Paris.Credit Jean-Paul Pelissier

Painting a mural in Paris.Credit Martin Bureau/Agence France-Presse

One World Trade Center's spire was also lit in the blue, white and red of the French flag.Credit Daniel Pierce Wright/Getty Images North America

Zahra Atat, second from right, mourns her husband, Adel Tormos, who had tried to stop the second bomber entering the Shia mosque. Photograph: STR/EPA

A woman mourns in Beirut. Joseph Eid. Getty Images

Hawraa Taleb weeps near her maternal cousin Haidar Mustafa, a three-year-old who was wounded in Thursday's twin suicide bombings AP Photo/Bilal Hussein

Beirut residents light candles during a vigil at the site of the two explosions that occurred on Thursday in the southern suburbs of the Lebanese capital Beirut, Credit: Hasan Shaaban/Reuters

Note: This article was also posted on my website, Maenad Magazine

How Google Maps Street View Resurrects The Dead

I didn't have a computer growing up. My family was poor and we couldn't afford one. I didn't have internet access at my house either. It wasn't until after my father's death that I discovered the massive, strange, and wondrous place that is the world wide web. He died in 2006 and I didn't have my first laptop until 2010, that's around the year I created an email account and also joined Facebook, tumblr, and all the other social networking sites.

I'll never forget the first time I used Google Maps Street View. I had no idea such a thing existed.  I typed in my address and, to my amazement, a photo of not only my house but my entire neighborhood appeared. You could virtually navigate where I had lived my entire life. What stunned me even more was the time stamp on the photo. It was taken in November 2007. I found myself wishing that the street view photo had been captured just a year earlier. I wondered if maybe it would have frozen my father in time. I desperately longed for this--to see him in the yard, to have an image of him like that. I can't explain it. I have many photographs of my father but to see a picture of him in which he was unaware of the camera, just going about his day, would have meant something to me. Instead, I see a home of grief. I see the bare trees of winter and I know that, inside the house, is a mother and daughter in mourning.

A few months ago, I checked Google Maps Street View again and discovered that another image of my home had been taken in May 2013. To my delight, it shows my mother sitting on the porch as our dog uses the bathroom in the yard. The picture captures the dog precisely at the moment when he is defecating. It's hilarious and it also makes me cry. My mom is still alive, but here is this photo that captures her at a random moment in life. It moves me in a way that, once again, I cannot explain. Even though street view also has a photo of my home from 2015, if I click on certain parts of the screen, I can bring up the 2013 photo and also the one from 2007.

I mention all of this because of an essay I read at The New Yorker. Matthew J.X. Malady talks about discovering an image of his late mother on Google Maps Street View and how it affected him. He also discusses the new role of technology and social media in modern mourning. Because we didn't have internet or computers when my dad was alive, I have no technological trace of him. I'm ambivalent about this. On the one hand, I would love to know what he'd post on Facebook, the kinds of things he'd share and write. On the other hand, I imagine this would be a painful reminder of his absence.

Whether we like it or not, social media is changing how we grieve and mourn. Modern forms of surveillance, like Google Maps Street View, are also affecting our relationship to the dead. In a way, the dead are never completely gone because their digital presence persists.

First, I noticed that a gigantic American flag had been affixed to the mailbox post at the corner of the driveway. That was new. Then I spotted the fire pit in the front yard that my mom and her husband, my stepfather, used for block parties, and the grill on the patio, and my mom’s car. And then there she was, out front, walking on the path that leads from the driveway to the home’s front door. My mom.
At first I was convinced that it couldn’t be her, that I was just seeing things. When’s the last time you’ve spotted someone you know on Google Maps? I never had. And my mother, besides, is no longer alive. It couldn’t be her.
That feeling passed quickly. Because it was her. In the photo, my mom is wearing a pair of black slacks and a floral-print blouse. Her hair is exactly as I always remember it. She’s carrying what appears to be a small grocery bag.
The confluence of emotions, when I registered what I was looking at, was unlike anything I had ever experienced—something akin to the simultaneous rush of a million overlapping feelings. There was joy, certainly—“Mom! I found you! Can you believe it?”—but also deep, deep sadness. There was heartbreak and hurt, curiosity and wonder, and everything, seemingly, in between.
 I cried for a minute. Then I chuckled. I shook my head. It was as though my mind and body had no clue how to appropriately respond, so I was made to do a little bit of everything all at once. But almost immediately I realized how fortunate I was to have made the discovery: at some point in the future, and probably quite soon, Google will update the pictures of my mom’s old street, and those images of her will disappear from the Internet.
 It is now a few weeks later, and that late-night discovery still occupies my mind for long stretches of each day. It has also prompted me to pay more attention to the expanding, multifaceted role technology plays in the experience of grief. Facebook is awash in memorials and posts paying tribute to deceased loved ones, of course, and scores of Web sites are in the online obituary business. But in most instances, people have to seek out that content in one way or another. It doesn’t sneak up on you. Not so for the ambush-style online reminders that began arriving shortly after my mom’s death and still throw me for a loop every single time.
Each year, I receive automated Facebook reminders urging me not to forget to wish my mom a happy birthday. During the weeks leading up to Mother’s Day, the flower company FTD, without fail, sends between five and ten e-mails to my old Yahoo account telling me that I should not wait any longer before ordering flowers for mom. I didn’t even realize that my mother had joined LinkedIn until January 2nd of this year, when I received one of those maddening, computer-generated e-mails informing me that her job anniversary was coming up.
These fleeting online occurrences can make an already difficult grieving process even more complicated and bizarre—mainly because it’s more difficult than you might expect to decide, finally, what to make of these things, or what to do about them. My Street View discovery was the best, but it was also the worst. Those Facebook pings about my deceased mom’s birthday bother me, but I don’t think I’d want them to go away forever.
Read the full essay at The New Yorker

On Leaving My Home

I'm not ready to write about this, but the longer I wait the harder it's becoming and I fear that, if I wait too long, I'll never write it at all.

For most of 2015, my family and I have struggled because I lost my job in March and then my stepdad lost his job a few months later. It's been months of food stamps and the stress of never having enough food, falling behind on bills, worrying that we would lose everything. We almost lost our home until a kind friend helped us. So when my stepdad was offered a job two weeks ago we had no choice but to take it even though the job was located in another state. We were one week away from losing our car and having our lights and water shut off, that's how desperate our situation was.

It was a swift move. So quick, I'm still reeling. We had two days to pack and not much room in our car. I focused mainly on clothes and had to leave behind almost all of my beloved books except for six. We loaded our car with suitcases and our two pets and set out on our road-trip from North Carolina to Rhode Island. Over the course of two days, we traveled 700 miles and drove through six states.

It's important to convey how extraordinary this move is. For my entire life--26 years--I have lived in a small town in North Carolina that I have never left except to attend college at a nearby university. My life has been sheltered. I have been someone deeply rooted to my birthplace and the physical home where I grew up. It's the home where I lived with my late father. So it's more than just a house, it's a repository for all my memories. When I entered the rooms, I could imagine him in them. The yard I stood on was the same one he mowed in the summers. To leave this place was unimaginable for me but, after his death, I know that the unimaginable is possible and we have no choice but to endure it.

What is home now? I've written that my father was my home and that I've felt displaced since his death. I've written that my mother is my home and that as long as I am with her then I'm safe. But home is a material place. It's a culture and a landscape where you are created, for better or worse. People leave their homes all the time. It's a rite of passage for the young as they set off for college and begin their lives as adults. It's what migrants and refugees do across the globe. They leave one place for another, in search of opportunity, safety, and a fresh start. I would never compare my experience to theirs. I'm trying to make the point that, for many, home is fluid, it's something they are forced to (or choose to) leave behind and they cope with it while also mourning the place they have lost and I think maybe mourning and grief are integral parts of leaving home and I think they are what I'm feeling right now.

I didn't just leave a house or a town, I left the state where my father is buried. When will I see his grave again? I feel I am losing him all over again. His body is so far away. Yes, the memories live inside of me, but I can't take flowers to his gravestone. I don't know how to handle this loss. I had to leave many of his possessions behind because I could not fit them in the car. What I did bring: his wallet of soft brown leather, a bottle of his cologne, a photo album filled with pictures of him. This is what I have left of my father and I'm haunted by everything I left behind but I know I must forgive myself for the selection I made.

I had to leave behind dozens of journals written over a decade, journals that hold memories and thoughts and lists of favorite words. I had to leave behind a lifetime of collected books that were found in thrift shops and bargain bins, hundreds of books that will remain unread, at least for now. I mourn them, too. I mourn the girl I would have been if I could have read them. I'm luckier than most in that I still have my house but the chances of us returning to it anytime soon are small because the journey is so long, though I know it could be worse. All of this could be worse but it is it's own kind of hell.

Where do I belong? In North Carolina, I felt out of place because of my atheism and liberal politics. I hated the confederate flags on some homes, the conservatism, the close-mindedness. Of course, those things are not unique to any particular geographical area but they were smothering me. Now that I'm in Rhode Island I still feel out of place. I'm not Northern. I stand out with my accent. I feel disconnected to this place and have no familial ties here. There's also more obvious class divisions, more conspicuous consumption, a greater contrast between the haves and the have-nots, at least that is my own observation. The food, the culture, the people are different but it's only been two weeks. Maybe as time passes, I'll feel more rooted, though I doubt it. The truth is, I belong nowhere except in books and words. Maybe literature is my only real home.

My family and I are trying to make a new start, to create a better life here. We've left so much behind and we'll never stop thinking about what we've lost but I wonder if maybe we can also, for the first time in a long time, look forward to what might come. I don't know. I don't know.

Patti Smith on the Death of Her Husband

Patti Smith with her husband Fred "Sonic" Smith, 1990

She ‘walked away from public life’ when she married Fred Smith, the influential guitarist of the countercultural band MC5, in 1980. She was at the height of her fame, having released her bestselling album Easter, but moved to be with him in Detroit and started a family. Passport photos from those days reveal the pair to be both strangely suburban and strangely like runaways, and I suppose that sums up the way of life Smith says they shared: domestic, ingenious, full of curious shared passions. ‘I was so happy,’ she says. ‘Time seemed like it would go on for ever. I didn’t have the concept that all this would be gone. Just like with Robert,’ she adds, thinking of Mapplethorpe. ‘I lived with Robert all those years and used to take pictures of his hands, and never took a picture of his face.’
Fred Smith died of heart failure in 1994, at the age of 45. A thunderstorm was brewing, and his wife, who has always been sensitive to meteorological shifts, felt it keenly. ‘Fred, fighting for his life, could be felt in the howling wind,’ she writes in M Train. She rushed him to hospital on Hallowe’en, and their daughter went to bed in her costume, expecting her father to see it when he came home. He never did. ‘The world,’ Smith writes, ‘seemed drained of wonder.’
In the book, Fred Smith comes across as having an almost mystical appeal. Was there something in particular that drew people to him? His widow nods, then struggles to define it. ‘He had some kind of quiet, special power, but not something I could easily describe,’ she replies. ‘I would see how men – my own brother, my father – how much they admired him, and my father wasn’t easily beguiled. He would have been a great king. I mean, in the best of ways – a benevolent king. He was just that kind of guy.’
Smith and Jesse, and her son Jackson (now 33), speak to each other about him every day. ‘And also my son and daughter are both musicians,’ she says, ‘so they magnify him. My son is really a virtuoso guitar player.’ (Jackson was married to Meg White, of the White Stripes.) ‘Sometimes he’ll be improvising a solo, and his tone… My husband had beautiful guitar tones – he wasn’t called Fred “Sonic” Smith for nothing. And Jackson, without knowing it, resonates that. My daughter, she plays piano, and she has his composing sense. Sometimes the three of us play together, and it’s beautiful. So we have various ways to keep him as part of our conversation.’
— The Telegraph - Patti Smith: 'I'm not a musician, people's concept of me is so off the mark'

Patti Smith - Birdland


His father died and left him a little farm in New England
All the long black funeral cars left the scene
And the boy was just standin' there alone
Lookin' at the shiny red tractor
Him and his daddy used to sit inside
And circle the blue fields and grease the night

It was as if someone had spread butter
On all the fine points of the stars
'Cause when he looked up, they started to slip
Then he put his head in the crux of his arms

And he started to drift, drift to the belly of a ship
Let the ship slide open and he went inside of it
And saw his daddy 'hind the control boards
Streamin' beads of light
He saw his daddy 'hind the control board
And he was very different tonight
'Cause he was not human, he was not human

The little boy's face lit up with such a naked joy
That the sun burned around his lids
And his eyes were like two suns
White lids, white opals, seein' everything
Just a little bit too clearly

And he looked around and
There was no black ship in sight
No black funeral cars, nothin'
Except for him, the raven
And fell on his knees and
Looked up and cried out

"No, Daddy, don't leave me here alone
Take me up, Daddy, to the belly of your ship
Let the ship slide open and I'll go inside of it
Where you are not human, you are not human"

But nobody heard the boy's cry of alarm
Nobody there 'cept for the birds
Around the New England farm
And they gathered in all directions
Like roses they scattered

And they were like compass grass
Coming together into the head of a shaman bouquet
Slit in his nose and all the others went shootin'
And he saw the lights of traffic beckonin' him
Like the hands of Blake
Grabbin' at his cheeks, takin' out his neck
All his limbs, everything was twisted and he said

"I won't give up, won't give up, don't let me give up
I won't give up, come here, let me go up fast
Take me up quick, take me up, up to the belly of a ship
And the ship slides open and I go inside of it
Where I am not human

I am helium raven and this movie is mine
So he cried out as he stretched the sky
Pushin' it all out like latex cartoon
Am I all alone in this generation?
We'll just be dreamin' of animation night and day
And won't let up, won't let up and I see them comin' in
Oh, I couldn't hear them before, but I hear 'em now

It's a radar scope in all silver and all platinum lights
Movin' in like black ships, they were movin' in, streams of them
And he put up his hands and he said, It's me, it's me
I'll give you my eyes, take me up, oh Lord, please take me up
I'm helium, raven waitin' for you, please take me up
Don't leave me here"

The son, the sign, the cross
Like the shape of a tortured woman
The true shape of a tortured woman
The mother standing in the doorway, lettin' her sons
No longer presidents but prophets
They're all dreamin', they're gonna bear the prophet

He's gonna run through the fields dreamin' in animation
It's all gonna split his skull
It's gonna come out like a black bouquet shinin'
Like a fist that's gonna shoot them up
Like light, like Mohammed boxer

Take them up up up up up up
Oh, let's go up, up, don't hold me back
Take me up, I'll go up, I'm goin' up, I'm goin' up
Take me up, I'm goin' up, I'll go up, tell
Go up go up go up go up up up up up up up
Up, up, to the belly of a ship
Let the ship slide open and we'll go inside of it
Well, we are not human, we're not human

Well, there was sand, there were tiles
The sun had melted the sand
And it coagulated like a river of glass
When it hardened, he looked at the surface
He saw his face and where there were eyes
Were just two white opals, two white opals

Where there were eyes, there were just two white opals
He looked up and the rays shot
And he saw raven comin' in
And he crawled on his back and he went up
Up up up up up up

Sha da do wop, da sha da do way
Sha da do wop, da sha da do way
Sha da do wop, da sha da do way
Sha da do wop, da sha da do way
Shaman do wop, da shaman do way
We like birdland 

Lyrics via MetroLyrics

Mourning Victims of Israeli Extremists

Earlier this month, artist Romy Achituv and writer Ilana Sichel responded to the recent bouts of violence against Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians with a poster project that uses a stark Israeli graphic language of mourning. The duo posted two sets of black-and-white posters — one set in Hebrew, another in English — in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and elsewhere around Israel in an effort to commemorate two young people whose lives were tragically cut short.
What is unusual about the posters is that they remember a Jewish Israeli teen stabbed to death at the Jerusalem Pride Parade on July 30 and an 18-month-old Palestinian child who was killed in the West Bank — both by right-wing Jewish Israelis. In a land where Jewish and Palestinian communities are legally and politically separated, sometimes by force, the gesture was a poignant action that pointed to the layers of symbolic mourning on the streets of Israel and provoked the question: who is allowed to be remembered?
 While most of the posters for Shira Banki, the victim of the Pride stabbing, remained on the walls, the posters for Ali Saad Dawabshe, the toddler who was burned alive, were more frequently torn down.

Further Reading:
Jewish Telegraph Agency - Mourning notices for stabbing and arson victims stir ‘politics of grief’ in Israel

 Forward - Subversive Death Notices Mourn Israeli and Palestinian Alike


I keep seeing his dead body. I don't know how to reconcile the vision of his death with the memories of his life.

He seems so far away. Our life together is lost.

The opening scene of Hiroshima Mon Amour: two bodies entwined, covered in gold dust. Later, the museum where we see displays of twisted metal, shattered stones, patches of hair, a mass of melted bottle caps, like a kind of geode. And the pictures of burnt flesh, scarred bodies. The wound of history.

I think grief needs to be rooted in the body. I don't think we talk enough about the toll that grief takes on the body.

I want you to come back, but you can't come to me and I can't go to you. There is no longer an "us." I am alone. I am barred from you.

In the water is where I am alive and free. Maybe that's why Woolf went into the river.

I had a dream about my father. I said "It's been a while since I've seen you." We embraced.

Our lives are temporary but our tragedies are permanent. Death is forever, it's the forever that lasts our lifetimes. Forever ends when we die. Then, the grief ends.

I give myself to art.

I fear the underside of life, what is beneath the beauty, what brings death.

In an interview about her California films, Agn├Ęs Varda says she wants to "erase borders" between artistic mediums. This is why she is a filmmaker, a photographer, and a visual artist. "In the cinema, I try to erase borders."

Everything begins with the death of my father. I thought it would kill me. Why didn't I die? Maybe that's what I am eternally asking myself: How did I survive?

How to put the beloved back together

The viscera of the past

The dead body of the father

Why do I endure?

What do you do when you are so fundamentally different from the world around you?

Sensitivity might help you as an artist but it hurts you as a person. I'm not thin-skinned. I am skinless. I have no protection. I am a wound.

He is gone and I am left to fend for myself. No one truly feels that but me. No one understands.

Certain hurts diminish, some flash over and burn for a lifetime.

Shame destroys me

This godawful grief

I can't live with the past, and I can't live without it.

I was born from the trauma of his death.

I will always yearn for him

I hold my grief. My grief holds me.

I don't write about certain things because I don't want to remember them. Forgetting allows me to survive.

This house keeps him. But I am also a house, holding his life, his memory, his name.

Loss is not a gift or a blessing or a lesson. By loss I mean the death of the beloved. That loss is and can only ever be atrocity.

I don't search for meaning. I survive in meaning's absence. I survive with the truth that this is life, and death will come and it will all be over.

There are many forms of death. Other ways of dying while one is alive.

When presence is a reminder of absence

We are an accumulation of so many thoughts, memories, and experiences. How can we ever be known?

Maybe the things that make it so hard for me to be in the world--my sensitivity, my deep feelings--are what make me a writer, allowing me to see in a particular way. Or am I trying to feel special? Maybe telling myself that what debilitates me and estranges me from the world allows me to be an artist is the only way I can survive and give my life meaning.

At random moments, I remember he isn't here, that he'll never be here again.

His death has forced me to live deeper

Writing about him helps me to keep living

I've led a tragic life and I don't know what to do with it.

What is there beyond the point of his death? Really, what matters now that he is gone? When a life ends, we die with it.

You contain the silence of your death.

What I've learned since his death: You are on your own in this world.

Home is him, it's a hymn of his voice, his now-silenced breath

I write warm blood

I am tired of bearing this pain and burying my dead

I say your name but it doesn't bring you back

So tired of this cultural obsession with cheerfulness and optimism. Not only must I suffer tragedy, now I'm expected to smile through it.

This world is trying to kill me and it's succeeding.

I keep thinking of a line from The Motorcycle Diaries: "Life is pain."

If I ever write a grief memoir, it will be so sad. It will be an unbearable book.

I write because I have no connection to this world. I write myself--my exiled, marginalized, forgotten, broken self. I do not want to reflect the world. I want to resist it with my words, my mind.

I know why Ophelia sank to the depths: To escape a world that damaged and ruined her. To escape her grief.

I think you truly have to write for yourself. There is no other way to write.

I keep waiting for something good to happen, for the pieces to fall into place, for some kind of peace, but it never comes. Perhaps I have foolishly believed in impossible miracles.

Ten years of struggle. Ten years of losing people I love, living in poverty, sinking into a hole that I can't escape because it deepens under me and pulls me in.

Emptiness underneath emptiness

It's like my life has stopped and I sit here watching everyone move around my stillness.

keep writing keep writing keep writing

Matt Rasmussen - A Horse Grazes in My Shadow

after James Wright

Startled by my breath it bolts
to the other end of the field.

The horizon's brow rasps
against a green cloud

which seems both
desperate and sincere.

Into a dead tree
a flame of bird

drives its burning beak.
And somewhere out here

I have come to terms
with my brother's suicide.

I wish the god of this place
would put me in its mouth

until I dissolve, until
the field doesn't end

and I am broken open
like a shotgun,

swabbed clean.

with thanks to

You Can Now Financially Support My Work

I have set up an account at, which allows people to support writers, artists, and other creative people for the content they provide.

If you are able to or have the desire, you can make a monthly donation through Patreon that will go directly to me. I understand that a lot of people can't do this, but I thought it was a good idea to offer the option if there were a few people who wanted to offer a little financial support.

This blog is a labor of love that means everything to me. I am grateful to have it as an outlet for my grief and as a forum to connect with other people. If this blog has brought any value to your life, and you have the means, then consider a small monthly donation.

All donated money will be used for food and other basic necessities as I'm currently unemployed and struggling financially. In the future, if I'm ever in a more financially stable position, the money may be used to purchase books about grief that I will then review on this blog.

If you would like to make a monthly donation, please visit the link below:

Depression and Despair

No one can write depression. Not really. It's too banal. It's the pile of clothes on your floor that you don't have the energy to pick up and put in the washer. It's the dirty dishes in the sink that you can't clean. It's the thousand minute thoughts firing in your mind that convince you that you are worthless, useless, and a complete failure. It's crying in the dark, using your hand to muffle your wailing. It's a vicious bitterness that makes you isolate yourself because you can't stand to see other people who are living a life without depression, who have good things happen to them while you relentlessly struggle under the burden of hardship and poverty.

I know there was a time when I was happy. I must have been carefree for a time. I just can't remember. I don't want to remember. Memory is no solace.

It all goes back to my father, dead now for nine years. I sometimes question why I've kept going when his death destroyed everything. There is nothing left. The world can never be what it was. It can never be beautiful or good or safe again. I am this absent thing. I am haunted. I am furious. I am unraveling. I am insane with grief. I am dying a slow death, year after year after year.

I think my sadness has turned to despair. The sadness was bearable because it was tinged with a hope that maybe life would get better. As the years have passed, I've seen that loss piles onto loss, the hole of grief deepens. Once the hope dissolves, then despair sets in. I am so exhausted with pretending that I'm okay or that I'm going to be okay. I am tired of this narrative of strength and resilience. God, I am so done with it. The heartache is just too intense. Some of us do not recover. Some of us grieve forever. Some of us are destroyed and there's nothing left. We have no more to give.

I have no more to give except, perhaps, these words that only make me cry and that so few people will ever read or understand.

Joe Biden Talks to Stephen Colbert About the Death of His Son

This Thursday, on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Joe Biden opened up about the devastating loss of his son, Beau. He spoke of Beau's compassionate and resilient spirit. He spoke as a father grieving his son and trying to go on living because that's what Beau wanted most for his father--for him to be okay. Colbert was gentle in his questioning and willing to talk about his own loss. When Colbert was ten, his father and two brothers died in a plane crash. Colbert said that, in many ways, after the tragedy, he raised his mother, that they were able to go on living for one another and that's how they survived.

Expectations were high when The Late Show with Stephen Colbert debuted this past Tuesday. Television critics and audiences alike wondered what kind of Colbert we would see. His first show featured George Clooney and Jeb Bush and seemed to show that this new iteration of The Late Show would be a compelling mix of celebrity interview and political insight. It was a strong first show, full of Colbert's infectious spirit and quirky comedy, but I think his interview with Joe Biden signals that we finally have a late-night show that's not just about laughs. Colbert is willing to be vulnerable, to talk about pain, and to give his guests a level of comfort that leads to emotionally revealing moments.

In an all-too-artificial television world, Colbert facilitated an unforgettable moment of authentic connection. For a few minutes, we didn't see Stephen Colbert the tv host and Joe Biden the politician going through the motions of an interview. Instead, we witnessed two men engaging in a difficult but important conversation about loss, grief, and faith.

In Anton Chekhov's short story "Misery," a father desperately searches for someone he can talk to about the recent death of his son. The story speaks to a very human need to share our grief with other people, to talk about the dead, and to have another person truly listen to us and express sympathy for what we are going through. Joe Biden's interview with Colbert serves a similar function: to publicly express one's grief and to let others know they are not alone in their bereavement. We need more conversations about loss and a greater willingness to allow people to openly express grief and sorrow. Instead of shying away from emotion, Stephen Colbert delved into it, even welcomed it and, in the process, he set himself apart as a comedian who possesses profound depth and compassion, who can make us laugh but can also make us feel.

You can watch the interview below:

Anton Chekhov - "Misery"

"To whom shall I tell my grief?"

The twilight of evening. Big flakes of wet snow are whirling lazily about the street lamps, which have just been lighted, and lying in a thin soft layer on roofs, horses' backs, shoulders, caps. Iona Potapov, the sledge-driver, is all white like a ghost. He sits on the box without stirring, bent as double as the living body can be bent. If a regular snowdrift fell on him it seems as though even then he would not think it necessary to shake it off.... His little mare is white and motionless too. Her stillness, the angularity of her lines, and the stick-like straightness of her legs make her look like a halfpenny gingerbread horse. She is probably lost in thought. Anyone who has been torn away from the plough, from the familiar gray landscapes, and cast into this slough, full of monstrous lights, of unceasing uproar and hurrying people, is bound to think.

It is a long time since Iona and his nag have budged. They came out of the yard before dinnertime and not a single fare yet. But now the shades of evening are falling on the town. The pale light of the street lamps changes to a vivid color, and the bustle of the street grows noisier.

"Sledge to Vyborgskaya!" Iona hears. "Sledge!"

Iona starts, and through his snow-plastered eyelashes sees an officer in a military overcoat with a hood over his head.

"To Vyborgskaya," repeats the officer. "Are you asleep? To Vyborgskaya!"

In token of assent Iona gives a tug at the reins which sends cakes of snow flying from the horse's back and shoulders. The officer gets into the sledge. The sledge-driver clicks to the horse, cranes his neck like a swan, rises in his seat, and more from habit than necessity brandishes his whip. The mare cranes her neck, too, crooks her stick-like legs, and hesitatingly sets of....

"Where are you shoving, you devil?" Iona immediately hears shouts from the dark mass shifting to and fro before him. "Where the devil are you going? Keep to the r-right!"

"You don't know how to drive! Keep to the right," says the officer angrily.

A coachman driving a carriage swears at him; a pedestrian crossing the road and brushing the horse's nose with his shoulder looks at him angrily and shakes the snow off his sleeve. Iona fidgets on the box as though he were sitting on thorns, jerks his elbows, and turns his eyes about like one possessed as though he did not know where he was or why he was there.

"What rascals they all are!" says the officer jocosely. "They are simply doing their best to run up against you or fall under the horse's feet. They must be doing it on purpose."

Iona looks as his fare and moves his lips.... Apparently he means to say something, but nothing comes but a sniff.

"What?" inquires the officer.

Iona gives a wry smile, and straining his throat, brings out huskily: "My son... er... my son died this week, sir."

"H'm! What did he die of?"

Iona turns his whole body round to his fare, and says:

"Who can tell! It must have been from fever.... He lay three days in the hospital and then he died.... God's will."

"Turn round, you devil!" comes out of the darkness. "Have you gone cracked, you old dog? Look where you are going!"

"Drive on! drive on!..." says the officer. "We shan't get there till to-morrow going on like this. Hurry up!"

The sledge-driver cranes his neck again, rises in his seat, and with heavy grace swings his whip. Several times he looks round at the officer, but the latter keeps his eyes shut and is apparently disinclined to listen. Putting his fare down at Vyborgskaya, Iona stops by a restaurant, and again sits huddled up on the box.... Again the wet snow paints him and his horse white. One hour passes, and then another....

Three young men, two tall and thin, one short and hunchbacked, come up, railing at each other and loudly stamping on the pavement with their goloshes.

"Cabby, to the Police Bridge!" the hunchback cries in a cracked voice. "The three of us,... twenty kopecks!"

Iona tugs at the reins and clicks to his horse. Twenty kopecks is not a fair price, but he has no thoughts for that. Whether it is a rouble or whether it is five kopecks does not matter to him now so long as he has a fare.... The three young men, shoving each other and using bad language, go up to the sledge, and all three try to sit down at once. The question remains to be settled: Which are to sit down and which one is to stand? After a long altercation, ill-temper, and abuse, they come to the conclusion that the hunchback must stand because he is the shortest.

"Well, drive on," says the hunchback in his cracked voice, settling himself and breathing down Iona's neck. "Cut along! What a cap you've got, my friend! You wouldn't find a worse one in all Petersburg...."

"He-he!... he-he!..." laughs Iona. "It's nothing to boast of!"

"Well, then, nothing to boast of, drive on! Are you going to drive like this all the way? Eh? Shall I give you one in the neck?"

"My head aches," says one of the tall ones. "At the Dukmasovs' yesterday Vaska and I drank four bottles of brandy between us."

"I can't make out why you talk such stuff," says the other tall one angrily. "You lie like a brute."

"Strike me dead, it's the truth!..."

"It's about as true as that a louse coughs."

"He-he!" grins Iona. "Me-er-ry gentlemen!"

"Tfoo! the devil take you!" cries the hunchback indignantly. "Will you get on, you old plague, or won't you? Is that the way to drive? Give her one with the whip. Hang it all, give it her well."

Iona feels behind his back the jolting person and quivering voice of the hunchback. He hears abuse addressed to him, he sees people, and the feeling of loneliness begins little by little to be less heavy on his heart. The hunchback swears at him, till he chokes over some elaborately whimsical string of epithets and is overpowered by his cough. His tall companions begin talking of a certain Nadyezhda Petrovna. Iona looks round at them. Waiting till there is a brief pause, he looks round once more and says:

"This week... er... my... er... son died!"

"We shall all die,..." says the hunchback with a sigh, wiping his lips after coughing. "Come, drive on! drive on! My friends, I simply cannot stand crawling like this! When will he get us there?"

"Well, you give him a little encouragement... one in the neck!"

"Do you hear, you old plague? I'll make you smart. If one stands on ceremony with fellows like you one may as well walk. Do you hear, you old dragon? Or don't you care a hang what we say?"

And Iona hears rather than feels a slap on the back of his neck.

"He-he!..." he laughs. "Merry gentlemen.... God give you health!"

"Cabman, are you married?" asks one of the tall ones.

"I? He he! Me-er-ry gentlemen. The only wife for me now is the damp earth.... He-ho-ho!.... The grave that is!... Here my son's dead and I am alive.... It's a strange thing, death has come in at the wrong door.... Instead of coming for me it went for my son...."

And Iona turns round to tell them how his son died, but at that point the hunchback gives a faint sigh and announces that, thank God! they have arrived at last. After taking his twenty kopecks, Iona gazes for a long while after the revelers, who disappear into a dark entry. Again he is alone and again there is silence for him.... The misery which has been for a brief space eased comes back again and tears his heart more cruelly than ever. With a look of anxiety and suffering Iona's eyes stray restlessly among the crowds moving to and fro on both sides of the street: can he not find among those thousands someone who will listen to him? But the crowds flit by heedless of him and his misery.... His misery is immense, beyond all bounds. If Iona's heart were to burst and his misery to flow out, it would flood the whole world, it seems, but yet it is not seen. It has found a hiding-place in such an insignificant shell that one would not have found it with a candle by daylight....

Iona sees a house-porter with a parcel and makes up his mind to address him.

"What time will it be, friend?" he asks.

"Going on for ten.... Why have you stopped here? Drive on!"

Iona drives a few paces away, bends himself double, and gives himself up to his misery. He feels it is no good to appeal to people. But before five minutes have passed he draws himself up, shakes his head as though he feels a sharp pain, and tugs at the reins.... He can bear it no longer.

"Back to the yard!" he thinks. "To the yard!"

And his little mare, as though she knew his thoughts, falls to trotting. An hour and a half later Iona is sitting by a big dirty stove. On the stove, on the floor, and on the benches are people snoring. The air is full of smells and stuffiness. Iona looks at the sleeping figures, scratches himself, and regrets that he has come home so early....

"I have not earned enough to pay for the oats, even," he thinks. "That's why I am so miserable. A man who knows how to do his work,... who has had enough to eat, and whose horse has had enough to eat, is always at ease...."

In one of the corners a young cabman gets up, clears his throat sleepily, and makes for the water-bucket.

"Want a drink?" Iona asks him.

"Seems so."

"May it do you good.... But my son is dead, mate.... Do you hear? This week in the hospital.... It's a queer business...."

Iona looks to see the effect produced by his words, but he sees nothing. The young man has covered his head over and is already asleep. The old man sighs and scratches himself.... Just as the young man had been thirsty for water, he thirsts for speech. His son will soon have been dead a week, and he has not really talked to anybody yet.... He wants to talk of it properly, with deliberation.... He wants to tell how his son was taken ill, how he suffered, what he said before he died, how he died.... He wants to describe the funeral, and how he went to the hospital to get his son's clothes. He still has his daughter Anisya in the country.... And he wants to talk about her too.... Yes, he has plenty to talk about now. His listener ought to sigh and exclaim and lament.... It would be even better to talk to women. Though they are silly creatures, they blubber at the first word.

"Let's go out and have a look at the mare," Iona thinks. "There is always time for sleep.... You'll have sleep enough, no fear...."

He puts on his coat and goes into the stables where his mare is standing. He thinks about oats, about hay, about the weather.... He cannot think about his son when he is alone.... To talk about him with someone is possible, but to think of him and picture him is insufferable anguish....

"Are you munching?" Iona asks his mare, seeing her shining eyes. "There, munch away, munch away.... Since we have not earned enough for oats, we will eat hay.... Yes,... I have grown too old to drive.... My son ought to be driving, not I.... He was a real cabman.... He ought to have lived...."

Iona is silent for a while, and then he goes on:

"That's how it is, old girl.... Kuzma Ionitch is gone.... He said good-by to me.... He went and died for no reason.... Now, suppose you had a little colt, and you were own mother to that little colt. ... And all at once that same little colt went and died.... You'd be sorry, wouldn't you?..."

The little mare munches, listens, and breathes on her master's hands. Iona is carried away and tells her all about it.

Note: This story's title has also been translated as "Grief." I've chosen to use "Misery" because that is the title in the text I've taken the story from: The Schoolmistress and Other Stories, which can be found at Project Gutenberg. The Gutenberg text does not cite a translator but it's most likely Constance Garnett because the stories are from "The Tales of Anton Chekhov," a box set of Chekhov's work translated by Garnett.

"The yellow inside you that makes you want to live:" On Karen Russell's Swamplandia!

Warning: This review contains spoilers

It's been said that we create stories in order to live but it may be just as true that we create stories to cope with death. In Ancient Greece, Orpheus descended to the Underworld to save his wife Eurydice who was killed by a snake bite. He was granted the ability to take her away from the Underworld but on one condition: He could not look back at her as they were leaving. Orpheus could not abide by this rule. He looked back and instantly Eurydice was reclaimed by the Underworld. The message seems clear: The dead cannot be resurrected, no matter how much we may long for it.

I was reminded of the tragic tale of Orpheus and Eurydice as I read Karen Russell's Swamplandia!, a magical realist novel about a family fractured by grief. Swamplandia! is an alligator park on an island off the coast of Florida run by the Bigtree Family. There's the alligator-wrestling matriarch, Hilola, the father, Chief, and three children, Kiwi, Osceola, and the youngest, 13-year-old Ava who narrates the story. When Hilola Bigtree dies, the family scatters in wildly different directions. Chief leaves mysteriously for a supposed business trip; Kiwi heads to the mainland for a job to help save their alligator park that is under threat of shutting down now that its main attraction has passed way; Osceola (Ossie) delves into the spirit world of the occult, falling in love with ghosts; and Ava is left on her own, forced to navigate the uncharted waters of heartbreaking grief:
But in fact I was like Ossie, in this one regard: I was consumed by a helpless, often furious love for a ghost. Every rock on the island, every swaying tree branch or dirty dish in our house was like a word in a sentence that I could read about my mother. All objects and events on our island, every single thing that you could see with your eyes, were like clues that I could use to reinvent her: would our mom love this thing, would she hate it.
When Ossie abandons Ava in order to marry one of the ghosts she's met, Ava sets out to find her big sister and to venture to the Underworld in the swamps where she thinks Ossie has gone and where she thinks she might find her mother.

Ava's trip to the Underworld is facilitated by a Hades-like figure: The Bird Man. He kills buzzards on the island and Ava believes that he can guide her to the realm of the dead. They set out on the swamp in search of Ossie and Hilola's ghost. Once isolated, The Bird Man rapes Ava. She manages to escape and is forced to navigate the swamps alone. This is perhaps the most powerful part of the novel because Ava finally sheds her child-like illusions about death. She realizes that the Underworld is not real, that her mother is truly gone and cannot be found in the vast swamp, but Ava learns something more. In the course of an alligator attack, she feels imbued with her mother's spirit and is able to fend off the animal and save herself. Ava describes it this way:
I believe I met my mother there, in the final instant. Not her ghost but some vaster portion of her, her self boundlessly recharged beneath the water. Her courage. In the cave I think she must have lent me some of it, because the strength I felt then was as huge as the sun. The yellow inside you that makes you want to live. I believe that she was the pulse and bloom that forced me toward the surface. She was the water that eased the clothes from my fingers. She was the muscular current that rode me through the water away from the den, and she was the victory howl that at last opened my mouth and filled my lungs.
In the water, wrestling the alligator as her mother once did, and as her mother taught her to do, Ava makes a connection to Hilola Bigtree. She touches the electric wire that runs between the living and the dead and that cannot be severed. Ava starts out searching for her mother's ghost and finds that no ghost exists. There are only the memories that pound in our bodies, circulate through our veins, and must sustain us for the rest of our lives.

Ultimately, Ava is saved from the swamp and so is Ossie and they're all reunited with their father. Ava has endured a journey of pain and self-discovery that leaves her scarred, traumatized, and forever changed. Now that she knows her mother is truly dead and cannot be found in the Underworld or brought back to life, she must turn to the living, to her sister and brother and father who will now help her navigate this new motherless world. Despite the loss and the suffering, she finds home again in the people she loves:
When my father stepped forward it didn't matter that we were nowhere near our island. All of us, the four of us--the five of us if you counted mom inside us--we were home. We were a family again, a love that made the roomiest privacy that I have ever occupied.
Swamplandia! is a novel about grief but, more than that, it's about love, about a family rediscovering one another, returning to one another, in the aftermath of a shattering loss. And shouldn't loss lead us back to love? Shouldn't we come away from our confrontations with death with an even stronger belief in loving as deeply as we can and giving our love to the people who are alive with us?


"Bring 'em all back to life." -- Feist, Graveyard

It seems odd to say "I'm thinking of my dad a lot lately" or "I miss my father so much right now" because am I not always thinking of him and missing him? Is he not part of every breath I breathe, every thought I think? He suffuses me and there's not one part of me that is not bound to him. But I go through times when he is more intensely on my mind, when the grief is more overwhelming and debilitating and that's what is happening right now.

I suspect every generation says "The time in which I live is full of turmoil and fear," but it seems more than accurate to say that the United States is currently in a state of upheaval and that the world is brimming with inhumanity, whether its police brutality on our streets or refugees trying to find peace and safety in Europe as they flee war-torn countries. Global warming is very real, communities are faced with having to leave their homes because of it and we will have to live with the consequences of what climate change is doing to the earth.

I watch the news but sometimes I question why when it's a constant stream of tragedy and catastrophe, but I don't think I could live with myself if I didn't learn about what was happening outside of my own life. Maybe it's because of my love for books, in which you are forced to take on the perspective of another person, but I value learning about other people, not just their struggles but also their complicated experiences in the world.

Still, I'm a very sensitive person and it's hard for me to hear stories of human suffering and let it go. I carry those stories with me and continue to think about them. Some of these stories hit close to home. Currently, in my small Southern town, several confederate flags fly on the sides of houses, conveying a terrible message of racism and hatred. This absolutely horrifies and disgusts me. I get indignant but, more than anything, I get overwhelmed. I feel hopeless. I see the suffering, but I have no idea what to do about it, except sign a few petitions and spread the word as much as I can. No matter what, I feel shaken by the things I see and read, by the way human life has been devalued in our country and in our world and how it seems that many people do not care.

What does this have to do with my father? Everything. He was the main person in my life who really listened to me. I would share with him all my thoughts and feelings about injustice. We often watched the news together. He was an open-minded and understanding person. I know that, were he alive today, he would be able to offer comfort to me when I am so undone by the world's tragedies. I miss talking to him. I miss our connection. I miss his goodness.

When the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina came up recently, I remembered how he was alive in 2005 when the storm hit. I remembered us watching the news and being horrified by the way people in New Orleans were left on their roofs and herded into the Super Dome, so many left to suffer with no help from our government. I also remembered my dad writing a check to the Red Cross even though, at the time, we were living on disability benefits and had very little money. He wanted to do something, to help in some way, and I admired him so much for that spirit of generosity.

I'm crying as I write this. This isn't just about the inhumanity of the world, this is also about the unshakable feeling inside me that I am lost in this world without him, that I can't really live and function without him. His loss magnifies all my emotions, it's the lens through which I see and feel everything. His death is what sensitized me to the suffering of other people.  But, at the same time, ever since his death, life no longer makes sense. Everything is harder, scarier, darker without him.  I can't find meaning or purpose. I can't find an anchor. He is gone. His soothing presence is gone and his words of comfort and his acts of love. I have the memories, yes, but they're not enough. I'm still alone. I'm still lost. I'm still hurting and grieving.

Pat Barker on Losing Her Husband

The Guardian has published an interview with novelist Pat Barker. She discusses her historical novels, the most famous being the Regeneration trilogy, which looks at the lives of soldiers who fought in the trenches of World War I. With her latest trilogy, she's shifted her focus to World War II. In the interview, Barker talks about losing her husband and how her grief affected both her life and work:
There were five years between the publication of Life Class and Toby’s Room, primarily because Barker spent two years caring for her husband before his death in 2009. It has been, she says, with characteristic understatedness, “a very much bombarded trilogy”. Given the relationship between Toby and Elinor (the title Toby’s Room, as Hermione Lee pointed out when she reviewed it, echoes Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room, also a memorial to a dead brother), the trilogy would always have been suffused with grief; but Barker agrees that her own bereavement gave it an extra dimension.
“You use the experiences you have. It wasn’t the first grief in my life; it was the deepest so far – let’s hope nothing else awaits,” she says. “I find the whole stages of grief thing quite interesting, because nobody talks about stages of falling in love, for example, or things like that, and I think it’s a way of people distancing themselves, taming the experience, which is actually an experience that can’t be tamed. It’s one of these things that strips the flesh off your bones, and that is the truth about it. There aren’t any neat stages, and there is nothing that can be identified as recovery, either, although obviously you learn to live with it, and through it, and differently because of it. But certainly, as soon as people talk about recovery, I just think, ‘Ah, it hasn’t happened to you yet.’”
Read the full article

Finding My Way Back To Books

The week after my father died, I could not read. I was sixteen years old and had been consuming books for most of my life but, when death came, I lost not just my will to read but my ability. I looked at words and they made no sense. Words no longer created worlds, they were illegible markings on a page, signs and symbols that confounded me. I was in a state of grieving that's never really stopped.

That week was scary, not just because I couldn't read. In that week, we planned his funeral and buried him. It was the first week without my father. The first week of a new life that I could neither recognize nor bear. Perhaps it makes sense that when I lost my father, I lost the language I had relied on up to that point, lost my passion for books, lost my writing voice.

T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" broke the aphasic spell. I held a book of poems in my hands and found Prufrock and started reading it aloud to myself and that's how I found my way back to words. It seems fitting that Modernism broke the spell, with its fragmented poetry, its ambiguity, its break from tradition to find new forms of expressing life and consciousness. I read Prufrock and I felt like I was breathing again. I believed in words again. I've never stopped believing in them. What else do I have? I am godless and fatherless, but I have language. I have books.

I'm sharing this story because Dylan Landis writes of a similar loss of the desire to read before and after her parents died. At The New York Times, she writes: "Words on paper had been reduced by grief to what painters call marks. As such, they had lost their power to resonate. So I found myself grieving, too, what I took to be an understandable loss of concentration." Eventually, she's able to read again but the genre she chooses is interesting and, at the same time, perfect for the situation she finds herself in:
Finally, nine months after my mother’s death, the ability to read slowly began to return. I found I could read for about 15 minutes at a time — a fraction of the two-hour plunges I once took. On rare occasions, I would fall into a state of grace and once again a book consumed me. Yet my subject matter seemed curiously circumscribed. Long ago, biologists used to say “ontogeny repeats phylogeny,” meaning fetal growth reiterates the stages of evolution. (It only looks that way.) My newly recovered ability to dwell on words may have reiterated the stages of my life. All I could relish, at that stage, were novels with young female protagonists, 14-, 15-year-olds, troubled, like the girls I write about and once identified with. “My Brilliant Friend,” by Elena Ferrante. “Sister Golden Hair,” by Darcey Steinke. “The Scamp,” by Jennifer Pashley.
I’ve heard it said that we don’t mature fully till we lose both parents. Perhaps I had to relive, in these novels, my early adolescence before I could start to find that new adulthood — and lose myself in reading again.

In the years since my father's death, I've found myself reading more Young Adult books. It's ironic that, when I was a precocious teenager, I preferred to read adult books. I liked Woolf and Plath, Fitzgerald and Conrad (I still love them), but, in many ways, I didn't really have a childhood. My father became sick just as I hit thirteen and then died three years later. My innocence was gone. I grew up very fast, or maybe I was always grown up. Losing him when I was sixteen seemed to freeze me at that age. I'm both an old soul and an immature adolescent even now that I'm in my twenties. Young Adult novels have been a way for me to re-live my childhood, to be an actual kid and think about the feelings and experiences of being young. Young Adult literature has given me permission to go through adolescence and it's been quite a comfort.

I believe strongly in the power of books to help us survive trauma but, at the same time, it's important to acknowledge that confronting the loss of a loved once shakes one's very foundation. You think you will react in a certain way when you might have the opposite reaction. I never thought I'd lose my ability to read. I never thought I'd stop being entranced by language. I never thought that words would not save me but, at the darkest moment of my life, nothing could save me. I had to experience that darkness and do my best to find my way back to life and back to literature.

"Let's go see the horror, death:" On Marguerite Duras's No More

Note: This review is a combination of fragments written while reading the text and actual passages from the text. All italicized sections are direct quotes from No More by Marguerite Duras (translated by Richard Howard). 

Duras, in her last days, writing writing writing. We can't come out of the womb writing (though screaming is a kind of language) but maybe we can write our way into death, or until death takes us.

In the middle of the night--fears of death.

My father's death brought death to me.

Find something more to write.

I am the wild and unexpected

But don't you see, I have no voice except my writing?

Writing assuages my fear of death.

That is what I am, pursuit of the 

As a child, the wind entranced me. I'd find any opportunity to feel it. It was one of the few things that touched me.

I would love you until my death.

We loved each other until death. I will love him until I die. I wonder if he thought of me in his last moments, or was there only room for the terror of death?

I don't know where I'm going.
I'm afraid.

Let's go see the horror, death.

He was as real as me. Now what is he? I can't recover. We hold within us the ability to no longer be real. Then what do we become? What language can hold death?

This review is a duet

These are death meditations

The word love exists.

That you love me is the most important thing.
The rest doesn't matter to me. The hell
with it.

What does love become after death? I can't give my love to him. I have no body to love. Yet I love. I must love the memory, the residue, of the dead even though my love does them no good now.

I can't make it any longer.
I don't think this fear can be
given a name. Not yet.

A life of fear started with his death.

I feel crushed by existence.
It makes me want to write.

My hand is what writes.

I can't write the things that destroy me.

Death is the end of writing, the end of language. We can't write death, not true death. We can only write death as it's imagined in life.

The great fear: never writing the truth. Dying and never being known.

It's over.
All over.
It is the horror.

We can't go with Duras, with anyone, to the last moment, the last breath. It's the unknowable territory, the one depth that writing cannot reach.

Your kisses--I'll believe in them to
the end of my life.